Techdirt, a blog about the intersections of law, media and technology, is fighting a defamation suit brought by Shiva Ayyadurai, a man who claims to have invented email. The site posted on the claim multiple times and Ayyadurai took offense to the tune of $15 million.
“Defamation claims like this can force independent media companies to capitulate and shut down due to mounting legal costs…this is not a fight about who invented email. This is a fight about whether or not our legal system will silence independent publications for publishing opinions that public figures do not like,” wrote Techdirt founder Mike Masnick. Ayyadurai has hired a lawyer named Charles Harder whose latest win was the destruction of Gawker.
Whatever you think of Gawker, Techdirt or blogging in general, the fact remains that online sites are currently the strongest and most independent media resources we have in the fight against censorship, political pressure and, in this case, frivolous claims. The EFF has is watching the case and Masnick is building his defense.
Did Ayyadurai really invent email? He claims to have created the idea — literally calling his product EMAIL — as a teenager in New Jersey in 1980. However, as this detailed site explains, there have been a number of versions of email since the early days of the internet and ARPANET. Queen Elizabeth II of England sent her first email in 1976 and Jimmy Carter used email that same year for internal communications. In short, the claim is ridiculous.
That doesn’t change the fact that Techdirt is on the ropes and needs help. They are looking for advertisers and are using Patreon to raise funds. Can Techdirt survive? Masnick isn’t sure.
“In our view, this is not a fight about who invented email. This is a fight about whether or not our legal system will silence independent publications for publishing opinions that public figures do not like,” he wrote. “And here’s the thing: this fight could very well be the end of Techdirt, even if we are completely on the right side of the law.”